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Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang has been China's vice premier since 2008 and is set to become the country's next prime minister in March.

Like would-be president Xi Jinping, an 18-year-old Li was one of tens of thousands sent to work on farms in China's eastern provinces as part of Mao Zedong's "sent-down youth" campaign in 1974. He went on to study law at the prestigious Peking University in the 1980s, where he helped translate the British book "The Due Process of Law," by an English judge. Reports suggest that Li, 57, had friends who included activists that went into exile after the June 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Climbing his way through the ranks of the Communist Party's Youth League, Li eventually became a member of the influential Politburo's Standing Committee in 2007 and is considered a protégé of current President Hu Jintao. In August, sources told Reuters Hu is pushing for his ally Li to be made the vice chairman of the military commission this year — a move that would allow Hu to maintain influence over the group even when he ceases to be the chairman of the commission. Li's promotion will also ensure there is no political retribution against Hu or his family by rivals who stay in power once he's gone, according to analysts.

Photo: Feng Li | Getty Images